As well as catchy tunes, the debut album from Dublin hip-hop duo Mango x Mathman articulates some of the concerns of people left behind by a changing Ireland, writes Eoghan O’Sullivan.
Sitting under the bright lights in a plush Dublin city-centre hotel, rapper Mango shifts in his seat, looks around — he doesn’t feel comfortable here.
In fact he’s railing against the changing face of his hometown. He says he wrote ‘Deep Blue’, the lead single off the debut Mango x Mathman album Casual Work, as a love letter to Dublin.
“I don’t think I could write that song now,” sighs the rapper whose birth cert carries the name Karl Mangan.
He adds that the city is changing too fast. “We’re going to look back on this as we look back on, like, Thatcherism or Reaganism.”
‘Deep Blue’, like the album as a whole, swerves through various genres, chiefly grime, Mango’s gruff lines standing out against producer Mathman’s deep-house beats, before Lisa Hannigan’s echoed vocals purr the chorus: “No matter where I go I know you’re always gonna be there waiting for me.”
He says he stayed during the recession despite all his mates heading off to Perth. Now though? “If I was doing my Leaving Cert now, I would not stick around in Dublin.”
He feels like there’s a duality at work, as artistic spaces and hubs are torn down for hotels (“It just makes you feel like you’re unwelcome and you’re like, ‘what are we going to do?’”) despite the fact that said artists, like him, have never been more creative — or outspoken.
“The place is kicking and we have never had so much more to say and so many ways to say it and so many avenues — and how the country is changing.”
Whether he wants the title or not, it certainly sounds like Mango, who grew up in Finglas, is the spokesman for a disillusioned generation.
He became socially conscious in the depths of the recession and, pointing to the likes of Emmet Kirwan’s nation-shaking appearance on the Late Late Show, says:
“The bigger audience or profile, whatever shite you want to call it, I get with music, I think you owe yourself — and the people that I respect, who are bigger like that who are given the microphone — to use it right.”
The Mango x Mathman project grew out of their first hip-hop crew, the Animators, which fractured in the mid-2010s, while the pair bonded over UK grime. One of the skits on Casual Work is a voicemail left by the producer in which he rails against Mango’s seeming disinterest in what they’re creating.
The latter explains how he was going through a severe bout of depression as bad life events seemed to coalesce.
“He’d seen potential in me, you know, and I just didn’t respond to it because I was scared of being out on my own.”
Whereas Mango felt he could hide in the Animators collective.
Casual Work is the culmination of their years together, which has seen them go from empty rooms and uncaring support slots to being the stars of the show at Other Voices and headlining festivals with ease, their raucous energy permeating the masses.
Mango says he’s had the title for years but its contents are completely different than what they were at the start.
The Wheel Up EP in late 2017 provided some of their live-set anthems so they felt they needed a fresh look at a full-length record.
Rather than making a big statement with their debut album, they wanted it to say something.
“It’s about love, loss, all that stuff, but it’s also about just growing up around here. You listen to some of the albums that I’ve always loved, it’s about growing up there or a moment in your life.
"And I didn’t want to do the cliche debut album thing of like, here’s where I was born and everything in my life up to this point. I was like, No, I’ve had a mad two, three years. That’s an album. I’ll get to that other stuff eventually.”
Casual Work by Mango x Mathman is out on Friday.